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Barley to beat high cholesterol?


Research continues into the potential benefits that oats and barley could have on our health with new findings from the US suggesting that diets high in barley could lower total cholesterol levels, and could be of particular benefit to post-menopausal women.

Under the umbrella of the US government, researchers at the Agricultural Research Service report that early results from a long term study reveal that grains such as barley and oats might reduce risk factors associated with excess weight, type 2 diabetes mellitus and cardiovascular disease.

According to the scientists, led by Kay Behall at the ARS Diet and Human Performance Laboratory in Beltsville, barley-containing foods improved several cardiovascular risk factors. For example, in a study of male participants, researchers found increasing whole grain foods in a healthy diet could reduce high blood pressure.

A diet higher in soluble fibre also had the greatest effect on reducing total and low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol levels - the bad cholesterol. Levels of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) - the good cholesterol - either increased or did not change, resulting in an improved total LDL/HDL ratio. Early findings from a female study found results were more pronounced in post-menopausal women than pre-menopausal women.

The scientists report that they decided to investigate barley following a host of studies on oats that revealed the soluble fibre found therein could reduce cholesterol. Barley contains a similar fibre.

At the Diet and Human Performance Laboratory, part of ARS' Beltsville Human Nutrition Research Center, Behall Judith Hallfrisch and colleagues are conducting several studies to see if eating a diet high in soluble fibre promotes glucose or hormone changes, resulting in reduced insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is a diminished sensitivity in body tissues to the action of insulin, which is to bring glucose into those tissues as a source of energy. When the human body has increased insulin resistance, the pancreas may try to compensate by secreting more insulin, which, over time, may exhaust the pancreas' ability to produce insulin.

The ARS scientists will investigate whether eating barley and oats can reduce the body's glycemic response (a measure of a food's ability to elevate blood sugar) and hyperinsulinemia (when the body produces too much insulin in response to a meal), independent of weight loss. In other words, can grains have a positive effect on health, irrespective of weight loss.